LONDON, Feb 25, 2011 (AFP) - Foreigners Friday faced hellish scenes in trying to escape Libya as countries worldwide sent planes and warships in a desperate bid to rescue their nationals from the chaos engulfing the country.
South Korea, with an estimated 1,400 of its nationals working in Libya, mostly for construction firms, has dispatched chartered jets to Tripoli, government officials said.
A South Korean warship on anti-piracy duty off Somalia has been diverted to help the evacuation in case the airport closes and is expected to arrive next week, the defence ministry said.
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) said some of its facilities were attacked in the unrest and that the company is seeking to bring its employees out of the country.
Romania said some 50 of its citizens returned home early Friday from Libya aboard a military plane sent to Tripoli the day before, the defence ministry said.
Anarchy descended on Tripoli airport Thursday as thousands of foreigners packed into the terminal to try to escape the widening crisis, with those who managed to leave describing how food and water were running low.
Nearly 20,000 people have also fled Libya by road to Tunisia over the past four days amid the bloodshed sparked by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's attempts to cling to power.
"Libya is descending into hell," said Helena Sheehan, who made it to London Gatwick Airport on the first specially-chartered British rescue flight.
"The airport is like nothing I've ever seen in my whole life," the 66-year-old said. "It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."
Italy, the nearest major European country and Libya's biggest trading partner, warned of a looming "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" as up to 1.5 million migrants flee north Africa.
The logistical challenges were especially acute for Asian countries with more than 150,000 low-paid workers trapped -- including some 60,000 Bangladeshis and 30,000 Filipinos.
"Some countries with significant wealth can react very quickly to a crisis but for other countries it can be very difficult," Lawrence Jeff Johnson, the International Labour Organization's Philippine office director, told AFP.
Migrante International, a support group for Philippines workers abroad, said Filipinos had been left to fend for themselves..
Kabir Hossain, 24, told AFP by telephone that he had been trapped in a Libyan desert construction camp where he worked for a foreign engineering group.
"We were trapped in the desert camp in Raslanuf Sakania, 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Benghazi, since the violence broke out," Hossain told AFP on a scratchy mobile-phone connection.
"The protesters shoot people on sight, it's not safe to go out. We don't have food and money. We are almost starving. Nobody can imagine how dangerous the situation is," he said.
"Some of us tried to call our embassy (in Tripoli) for help, but they have not helped. Now they do not answer our phone calls."
A Spanish military plane returned to Madrid from Tripoli early Friday carrying 40 Spaniards and 84 people of other nationalities including British, Finnish, Mexican, Canadian, Ukrainian and Portuguese, Spanish media reported.
Egyptians fleeing from Libya described how they had been beaten and tortured after Kadhafi's son accused Egyptians of being behind the uprising.
An evacuee described how Libyan authorities tried to recruit them to help crush the uprising against Kadhafi's 41-year authoritarian regime.
"When we refused, we were beaten up, tortured," said Ashraf Said, from Cairo.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "incredibly sorry" for the delays in getting British nationals home, as the first three planes made it out, carrying adults, children and even a dog.
A British naval frigate carrying 207 people, 68 of whom were British, left Libya's second city of Benghazi.
Canada meanwhile had to look for a new plan after a private insurance company cancelled a charter flight secured by Ottawa, stranding 105 nationals at the airport.